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Non-profit seeks tax cut to keep rents 'very low' in Burnaby apartment building

Entre Nous Femmes Housing Society wants a property tax reduction on a Metrotown apartment building it is planning to buy.
Entre Nous Femmes Housing Society wants to purchase an apartment in Metrotown and is seeking a property tax reduction.

A Vancouver-based housing non-profit has a proposal to keep rents “extremely affordable” in a Metrotown apartment up for sale, and it includes asking the City of Burnaby for a property tax reduction.

Lilian Chau, CEO of Entre Nous Femmes Housing Society which provides affordable homes for families and seniors, asked the city to reduce the property taxes on the apartment at the corner of Irving Street and Royal Oak Avenue that the non-profit plans to purchase.

The property is slated for high-density, mixed-use development, potentially a 20-storey tower with commercial on the bottom, Chau told the city’s planning and development committee Feb. 14.

But the non-profit is committed to not redeveloping the site for at least 20 years and has planned $850,000 of major capital renewals and repairs within the first five years of operations.

The non-profit is also applying to the provincial Rental Protection Fund for a $12-million grant to purchase the 47-unit building.

The 55-year-old building currently has studios renting for an average of $860 a month, 61 per cent below the Metrotown average of $2,200.

One- and two-bedrooms are renting for about 50 per cent below the market rate.

“These are extremely affordable rents,” Chau told the committee. “(These are) rents that are typically seen in a BC Housing-subsidized building. So, these are market renters, but these are definitely very low rents.”

She said while the non-profit’s goal is to maintain those rents for tenants, who are mostly seniors, the low rents pose a challenge to the non-profit.

She said the property tax reduction can be “rationalized” because the tax reflects its high redevelopment potential, but the non-profit intends to operate the building more like an affordable housing project.

Her presentation slides showed the property tax assessed at almost $56,000, “taxed at assessed value for redevelopment potential at $18 million.”

Chau said with no property tax reduction, the non-profit would have to move 10 per cent of the units from their deeply affordable rates to low-end-of-market levels within the first 10 years.

She said if the city reduced the property tax by half, almost $28,000, all the units would remain at their current rental rates subject to yearly allowed increases and inflation upon turnover, which would allow the units to remain at about 50 to 60 per cent below the market rate “for at least 20 years, if not in perpetuity,” Chau said.

The 50 per cent tax reduction would also allow the non-profit to do deep retrofits, like installing heat pumps.

A 100 per cent reduction in the property tax would “free up operating dollars” for a resident support worker to give additional assistance to tenants and families.

She said while the non-profit doesn’t currently have a relationship with the current residents, it plans to keep them in place after buying the building.

“Once we acquire, (the residents) will become part of our housing community and they would access our staff and other resources,” Chau said.

She said she hopes to get the city’s support before the non-profit closes on the property in April, if it is successful in its provincial funding request.

Mayor Mike Hurley called it an “interesting proposal” that “piques” his interest but said he wanted more time to consider it with staff.

“Even looking at it through a legal lens, if we can actually even achieve some of the things you’re suggesting,” he said. “But I think it’s very worthwhile to consider the proposal.”

Coun. Pietro Calendino agreed he wanted more time to consider the proposal.

“Just to be clear, we don’t generally cut the property tax,” Calendino said. “But there are other ways of maybe providing that amount.”

The committee received the presentation for information, and Hurley suggested councillors and staff would discuss it in a closed meeting.